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Michael Ceraldi’s Anti-Concept and the Culinary Art of Survival

Michael Ceraldi is a conspiracy theorist. He’s also quite possibly the most innovative chef on Cape Cod, though he’ll tell you his community based philosophy is nothing new.

Chef Michael Ceraldi believes that the best restaurants in the world are the destinations of their locally grown products.

At Castle Hill’s June food symposium he declared, “If Cape Cod’s bridges were to disappear for some reason, my family could still eat because I know people who grow things,” adding, “The more that people are removed from the land, the less secure they become.” It’s true, Ceraldi has a wide network of farmers, foragers, and fishermen with whom he works closely each day to devise a unique seven-course prix fixe menu for his Wellfleet restaurant, Ceraldi. Just don’t call it a concept. It’s not a concept.

Pushing the flat brim of his pristine snapback off his forehead he explained, “This is what restaurants did before global trade and the industrial revolution. We’re not doing anything new at all, we’re actually getting back to the land and the community based system of not only our agriculture, but also our finances staying here on the Outer Cape.”

Ceraldi is located at 15 Kendrick Avenue in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Ceraldi was deemed Cape Cod’s best restaurant of 2017 by Boston Magazine.

On my visit last month, nationally renowned food writer Ruth Reichl stood up at the next table to say that the meal had exceeded her expectations. Coming from one of the loudest voices to ever grace the pages of Gourmet, The New York Times, and The L.A. Times, this was quite the compliment. Ceraldi deserved it.

The evening began with a Lucky Lips Loagy Bay oyster and a dozen briny wild sea beans scattered across our plates. We sipped cloudy glasses of unfiltered natural prosecco that drank more like sour beer than any wine I’ve ever tasted.

A marble slate draped in cured meat followed closely behind with pork procured from an acorn fed hog raised by Drew Locke of Hillside Farm along the Pamet River.

Lucky Lips Loagy Bay oyster, wild seabean, Surrey Farm finger lime at Ceraldi

The pancetta came cured in salt, chile, and Snowy Owl espresso from Brewster. Likewise, the Bresaola had been curiously cured with juniper and seasalt. The beef hailed from Seawind Meadow Farm in South Dennis where they slow-raise Scottish Highland cattle for their lean marbled meat. A horned skull hung above the bar as a testament to Ceraldi’s dedication to cooking whole animals.

Robinson Farm arpeggio was the only ingredient I identified throughout the seven courses that did not hail from Cape Cod; it was a product of Central Mass. A literal slice of home.

Longnook Meadow Farm lettuces, pistachio, wild beach rose vin

Our third course arrived on a striking ceramic plate heaped high in fresh lettuce from Longnook Meadows Farm that had been topped with pistachios and a vinaigrette made from salt sprayed beach roses. A server who presented the wine pairing told me to wait for the pop of acid on the back of my tongue and a hint of volcanic soil, watching with amusement as the impact hit. I told him I admired the golden rose pinned to his lapel, and swiftly my salad took on an enchanting floral bouquet as if by premonition.

The fourth course was wild. Literally. Woven from foraged milkweed shoots fried in tempura to taste like okra. The shoots emerged with sumac ricotta and spruce infused vinegar along with a dusting of spruce tips, once eaten for their Vitamin C and now employed for brightening.

Grano arso ravioli, Seawind Meadow Farm beef, cacao nib, garden sage, black garlic, and cedar fondo

Next, came ravioli, each one a delicate capsule of Seawind Meadow Farm beef braised with cedar and maple sap that was then reduced to a sauce for the dish which had been finished with black garlic. Ceraldi explained he had slow cooked the garlic himself for 40 days in an effort to caramelize its natural sugars for an honest sense of umami.

The final savory course belonged to Hillside Farm where the chickens are moved daily onto fresh pasture in order to simulate ingestion and guarantee that each bird consumes a dozen different grass species throughout its lifetime.

“They have a great life and then one bad day,” joked farmer Locke.

Hillside Farm chicken, salsa Etrusca, preserved lemon, Stephanie’s Flower Cart lavender, Surrey Farm sunchoke, In The Weeds Farm daisy greens

The breasts were sous vide and the legs cured in lavender before being slow cooked in olive oil. A Surrey Farm sunchoke puree had been expertly devised from sunchokes the farmer dug up after sweetening in the ground all winter. A wilted daisy green salad from The Weeds evoked notes of bitter arugula and anise.

Dessert was topped with black locust flowers that I recognized all too well from my drive to Wellfleet. Each ivory petal captured the essence of sweet peas and honeysuckle to enliven a goat cheese panacotta made with Checkerberry Farm rhubarb and fresh Cape Cod strawberries.

If I get word that an apocalypse is afoot, you’d better believe I’m headed for Wellfleet. I would gladly trust Michael Ceraldi and his anti-concept with my last meal. No two experiences at Ceraldi are ever the same; so, conspiracy or not – I keep going back.

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Eat Like a Local on Cape Cod this Summer

The Andrea Cape Cod (Erb Photo)

School is officially out and Central Mass residents are gearing up for their annual voyages to Cape Cod. An oceanside sabbatical means plenty of clam shacks and sandwiches at the beach, but we also believe that every getaway calls for at least one fine dining experience. Mass Foodies has pinpointed a half dozen of the best restaurants to highlight on the Cape this summer. Whether you’re in the market for a six-course tasting, sushi, or seaside oysters – we’ll steer you in the right direction.

Beach eats for Cape Cod dining (Erb Photo)The food landscape has shifted dramatically on Cape Cod and its islands in recent years to emphasize fresh, healthy, and sustainable options for residents and tourists alike. In early June, members of Cape Cod’s food community gathered for “Beyond the Plate,” a food symposium hosted at Edgewood Farm in Truro. Prominent chefs, farmers, and writers sat together to discuss the region’s culinary evolution and contemplate its future.

Elspeth Hay and Ali Berlow are co-hosts of “The Local Food Report” on NPR’s Cape, Coast, and Islands broadcast; this summer marks the show’s 10th anniversary. Hay and her husband also play pivotal roles at Mac’s Shack, a sanctum for crudo and ceviche operating out of a 19th century nautical home in Wellfleet.

Mac's Fish House in Provincetown, MA (Erb Photo)
Mac’s Fish House in Provincetown, MA (Erb Photo)

At the symposium, Hay explained, “We have some unique challenges and so many opportunities in the sense that the Cape and islands are this very, busy tourist destination in the summer, which in some ways makes sourcing locally on a large scale difficult for us. But, it also presents an educational opportunity and I think that we as a community are trying to make the most of that opportunity.”

Berlow hopes that visitors to the Cape and the islands will take their newfound knowledge home with them. “When you travel here, maybe you’ll see a composting program or a farm to school program or a summer lunch substitute program and think, ‘I can do that back wherever I come from,’” she said. Berlow is the founder of Island Grown Initiative on Martha’s Vineyard and has cultivated a culture of eaters who support the local food system. She hopes that we can all begin to grapple with where our food comes from, a topic covered extensively in her book: The Food Activist Handbook.

Local Chef Michael Ceraldi lives and cooks by this same ethos. His restaurant, Ceraldi was deemed Cape Cod’s best restaurant of 2017 by Boston Magazine. As a chef, Ceraldi works with that which is available to him. “I feel very strongly that some of the best restaurants in the world are the destinations of their locally grown products,” he stated at the symposium. Ceraldi looks at his steadfast relationships with the agricultural community on the Cape as being part of a cycle. He further explained, “By buying from your neighbor or supporting your neighbor, you can change the entire food system because it changes what people want.”

Cape Cod Bay Wine Pairings (Erb Photo)Ceraldi finds inspiration in chefs like René Redzepi of Noma – frequently ranked among the best in the world. He cites Redzepi’s hyper-local pop-up in Tulum, Mexico last year, recalling, “They cooked not the same products, not the same dishes, but cooked with local ingredients and with a local staff. In my industry – in restaurants – highlighting what you can get from that community is super important.”

The best compliment Ceraldi has ever received was at the farmer’s market when a farmer thanked him for sending new customers. Ceraldi believes that there is no better feeling of accomplishment than getting people interested in going to the market in search of local ingredients that they wouldn’t ordinarily eat. “I think that the more people are removed from where their food comes from, the less secure they become. Knowing your farmer and caring about where your food comes from is a big achievement; it’s not easy to make people care about that,” he concluded.

Hay couldn’t agree more. “When our country was founded, 90% of Americans were farmers and we had a very real connection to the way that our food was produced and a common understanding of the challenges that we faced in food production,” she said. Now, approximately 2% of Americans are farmers. “I think that’s how this conversation got ignited – a growing awareness of that,” Hay acknowledged.

It was John F. Kennedy who famously recollected, “As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all the boats.” It is evident that this philosophy persists in the region. Cape Cod’s chefs, farmers, and food writers want you to leave with more than just a suntan. They are prepared to arm you with a new outlook on eating, and this summer, Mass Foodies is along for the voyage. Join us as we investigate the best that Cape Cod has to offer this summer.